Now, after twenty-eight years, my own sense of this book has changed. I see it as less a specific record of Maoist China and more an exploration of what might be the most dangerous direction of the twentieth-century mind—the quest for absolute or "totalistic" belief systems. Indeed, that quest has produced nothing short of a worldwide epidemic of political and religious fundamentalism—of movements characterized by literalized embrace of sacred texts as containing absolute truth for all persons, and a mandate for militant, often vio- lent, measures taken against designated enemies of that truth or mere unbelievers. The epidemic includes fundamentalist versions of existing religions and political movements as well as newly emerging groups that may combine disparate ideological elements. These latter groups are often referred to as cults, now a somewhat pejorative designation, so that some observers prefer the term new religions. But I think we can speak of cults as groups with certain characteristics: first, a charismatic leader, who tends increasingly to become the object of worship in place of more general spiritual prin- ciples that are advocated; second, patterns of "thought reform" akin to those described in this volume, and especially in Chapter 22; and third, a tendency toward manipulation from above with considerable exploitation (economic, sexual, or other) of ordinary supplicants or recruits who bring their idealism from below.